The 2012 Mullum Music FestivalLeft – Emily Lubitz and Mama Kin. Photo – Jeff Dawson. Cover – Mia Dyson. Photo – Evan Malcolm

What makes a town come to life? Mullumbimby has many boasts on its town belt, from 'biggest little town' to 'tidy town' to 'alternative lifestyle town' to 'locals who care what happens in their neck-of-the-woods town' and so much more inbetween. Magic Mullum Music Festival offers up the mother-load of music yet again, with diversity from local to national to international performers who not only entertain but inspire other musicians and talents to keep the live music alive.

The Mullum Music Festival, as Jo Jo Smith coined so aptly, is "the best music festival in Australia... I really mean it..."

Driving down the mainstreet, where the Festival weaves in and out of multi-venues, from the Courthouse Hotel, Drill Hall, Mullumbimby 'Bowlo', The Civic Hall, the Ex Services Club and even the Mullumbimby High School Auditorium, the vibe is present from the go-get. Parking the car is a snap with no charges biting you first up: choose between venues and move the car accordingly, or select your spot and walk the distance, which is not great by any stretch. Hop on (and hop off) the Magic Bus, which is a trip in itself with music blasting and happy campers waving from the windows of this hippie/trippie double-decker once-was-red-now-is-psychadelic bus from the past.

Local musicians and largely Australian indie performers all have a chance to shine (and shine they do) at this low-key, high-potency music festival which embraces all forms of music, and all levels, too, where young hopefuls (who've busked and burnt and bent to the rhythm) get a chance to show their wares on a real live stage to real live audiences. 

So many acts to see, with no hysteria or pushing and shoving. No police and sniffer dogs waiting to catch unsuspecting punters with suspected substances. No garbage festooning the streets (this is a sustainable, eco-friendly and low impact festival respecting the locals and their environment) and plenty of kissing, hugging, smiling and happy faces everywhere.

How wonderful to see children, dressed up in fantasy gear, being part of the whole. Where else can you see children threading through the crowds, in all ages and stages of their being; able to listen to top quality music and interacting on a level of "I'm part of all of this, I live here" with their siblings, all looking out for each other. Puts a smile on your dial, that is for sure!

The music is fabulous, the only frustrating feature is that you cannot possibly get around to see all of the acts and you know you want to see all of the acts as they are individually awesome and collectively amazing. Hence a full pass is the way ahead, giving over to the total flow of the festival, weaving in and out of the multi-venues, whilst walking down one of the main streets of Mullumbimby, feeling part of this town, even if only for a few short days. The crowds don't crush you, and when a venue is full, the door-keepers let you know, so you aren't wedged or squashed or shmished into some crowd dynamic where you cannot leave the building because you just can't get to that door right over there...

Most of the performers have a two-day time slot so if you miss Mama Kin on Saturday you can catch her on Sunday: we caught her on Sunday and so thankful we did. What a performer - so diverse and complex: burlesque, gypsy, soul, funky and full-on, she is joined by New Orleans keys man Brother Michael Caruana, with 'jungle' George Servanis on drums, beating a path to your musical door. Mama Kin encapsulates this vibe by admitting "last night I was hanging around talking with the other musos and we said, 'how good is it that we move our bodies to make music and noise that people want to hear, and they pay us money to hear us and then they move their bodies and make a noise in applause, and HOW GOOD IS THAT!"

How good indeed: this mere statement outlines how important music (and art) is in keeping people interactive, alive, creative, feeling part of something - either by making the music or being an audience member, allowing music to still be made and played in front of a live audience. 

Music cannot be replaced and must be seen as an important element of life: the making and creating of music and art is, was and will always be the foundation of life, culture and community. Profit cannot be measured by mere fiscal gain - there is always the profit of the soul and the profit of creativity. Perhaps profit should be referred to as prophet and schools (Mama Kin played in the Mullumbimby High School Auditorium) should all have a strong music and art curriculum reinstated (or instigated) so that future music festival attendees can have someone to listen to, watch, emulate and aspire to join the ranks of new musicians? Warms the musical heart just thinking that this could be possible...

Some of the acts I was fortunate enough to witness this time around were inspirational and rewarding. Roesy, originally from Birr, Ireland, now lives in Melbourne and luckily made the Mullum Music Festival so that others could listen to his magic. A story teller with the Irish gift of the jocular gab, Roesy enthralled the audience with his heartfelt songs sung with clarity and poignancy, delivered with a lyrical voice that lingers in your memory long after he has left the stage.

Suzannah Espie followed suit, joining co-performers Liz Stringer and Chris Altmann to sing and play like angels, with soul-lifting harmonies strung out with mandolin, banjo, guitar, bass guitar and lyrical largesse that takes your breath away. Suzannah's sense of comic delivery is almost stand-up, admitting to 'turning Mullum' with 'creek in her hair.'

Mia Dyson belting out her own brand of blues, with dad Jim Dyson jamming with skill and enthusiasm, blowing the audience away.  Independent musos blasting out their own wall of sound, ripping it up on the keyboard and putting 'musical family' back on the menu on Dyson hand made guitars, pumping out rock the way it is supposed to sound with high energy from years of accomplishments.

Tin Pan Orange, with their carnival of sound, packed the auditorium with all ages and stages, delivering on every level and wowing the crowds. Jo Jo Smith returned to Mullumbimby and played with long time friends and musos Greg Lyon and Jim Kelly, delivering their own brand of blues, soul, funk and jazz with ease. They are legends and never fail to deliver: the joint was jumping.

The importance of live music can't be ignored. Juzzie Smith, a busker/muso from way back, delivering his own brand of one-man-band rhythm and blues, banging on his box drum with two pedals and a slap, his enthusiasm is contagious. Who says a man can't multi task? Check Juzzie out juggling musical balls and playing like a wizard, whilst talking to the audience and all the while keeping the beat: makes you want to find a musical instrument and try your own hand/eye/ear whatever to jam along.

Music festivals transcend the norm and The Mullum Music Festival brings it home to mama. Home is where the heart is, and in Mullumbimby you will find a whole lot of heart, and soul, and funk, and reggae, and rock, and roll and so, so much more. This is a feast for the senses, not to mention feasts abounding in and around the streets and venues of Mullumbimby with the best coffee, the best cakes, the best food and the best of friends.

Too many artists to individually list so best way to approach this music festival is to make it a long weekend and cruise the street at your liesure, hopping in and popping out of halls and pubs and clubs to immerse yourself in all the wonders of musical entertainment, live and real and human contact at the source - music awakening your spirit and washing away all the bad bits, inspiring young and old alike to embrace all that is good in this world. Music can lift you up and keep you there.

So let's keep music alive, shall we? Long live live music and thank you Mullum Music Festival! Love your work...

The Mullum Music Festival 2012

Dates: November 22 – 25, 2012

Most read Brisbane reviews

At this moment in our cultural history, as Australia emerges gradually from the restrictions...